Washing hands is one of the best ways to protect staff and pupils from getting sick. Encouraging children to wash their hands can be a challenge; if they haven’t been taught explicitly how to do it, or why washing your hands regularly is important, it’s unlikely to have become part of their daily routine.
There has never been a better opportunity to nail a hand washing routine in your school. Which is why we have gathered some quick and easy tips for encouraging children to wash their hands at school.
8 great ways to encourage children to wash their hands more
1. Teach children about germs
It’s possible that some children have never been taught about germs and how they spread. There has never been a better time to teach children about germs and bacteria, and it’s probably best to take a whole-school approach.
You could try:
- Holding assemblies about germs.
- Teaching germ history and science – we used to think illness was caused by evil spirits in the not-too-distant past!
- Make some posters focused on good hygiene – particularly around hand-washing areas in the school.
- Emphasising the importance of the cleaners at the school.
- Encouraging all staff to push the same message.
Help children understand exactly why keeping their hands clean is so important.
2. Provide instructions for how to wash hands correctly
It’s fair to say that we’ve all had great lessons in handwashing more recently. But did children get the message? Fortunately, the NHS has got you covered with the How to wash your hands NHS song.
Provide pupils with really easy to remember instructions:
- Lather your hands using liquid soap.
- Spread the lather around your hands, fingers and nails.
- Scrub the tips of your fingers.
- Wash all over – including right around the thumb and the backs of fingers.
- Rinse off the lather and air dry.
Make it as simple as possible, whilst still getting the message across that germs love the nooks and crannies of our hands!
3. Use glitter to demonstrate clingy germs
Glitter. It gets everywhere. Just like germs. This fun and engaging method might only be a one-time activity to have a go at with your school, but it will do a great job of getting the message across.
Tell children to sprinkle glitter on both sides of their hands.
Instruct them to wash the glitter off with soap and water.
Hold a line inspection of hands – make it fun!
They will quickly realise just how difficult it is and how long it takes to remove all the glitter they poured on their hands. Those who were enthusiastic with the glitter may live to regret that choice!
This is a great multi-sensory approach to teaching children about germs and they are unlikely to forget this lesson – you freely allowed them to pour glitter on their hands after all!
4. Grow your own germs
We've already suggested learning about germs might be a great gateway to discussing washing your hands. What better way to learn about it than to grow your own? Speak to teachers and suggest something similar to this idea from Play Dough to Plato. In their experiment, four apple halves are placed in jars after having different interactions with germs. Leave them to sit in their respective states and check it every now and then. Note down how the colour of each apple changes - a perfect sciencey way to get to the bottom of how germs are there even if we can't see them!
5. Tie it into sensory play
One for the younger ones here, but sensory play can open up a whole host of opportunities to learn in a fun and creative way around the subject of good hand hygiene. Take this amazing idea from How Wee Learn, which adapts the classic frozen hand activity. Fill up a latex glove with water and freeze it overnight. In the morning, cover it with 'germs' (in this example washable marker was used), then ask the class to wash them.
It's a great way to visualise the concept of areas and reinforce how important it is to wash your hands before eating.
6. Make some homemade soap
Another fun, experiment you can apply to handwashing is making your own soap. The online community has plenty of incredible inspiration, like this rainbow soap made by the Art Bar Blog. If you feel like you need to dangle that carrot just a little bit more, you could go down the same direction as the Kids Activities Blog. Their 'treat soap' sees you embed a toy in the middle of the soap. The way to get to the treat? Wash those hands!
7. Sing a song
There are so many great opportunities for having fun with hand washing when you involve songs. It might also help with the timing of hand washing – the government has provided the following guidance,
“Everyone should wash their hands regularly with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, to reduce the risk of illness.”
Happy Birthday is a great place to start. Everyone knows it and it happily hits the 20-second mark. But it can get tiresome quickly.
Have a go at one of these fab handwashing songs:
Twinkle, twinkle little star
Look how clean my two hands are
With soap and water, wash and scrub
Got those germs off, rub-a-dub-dub
Twinkle, twinkle little star
Look how clean my two hands are.
To the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Wash, Wash, Wash your hands
Wash them nice and clean.
Scrub them here (with hand motion scrubbing together)
Scrub them there (with hand motion scrubbing tops of hands)
And scrub them in between (with hand motion scrubbing between fingers).
Wash, wash, wash, your hands
Play our handy game
Rub and scrub, scrub and rub
Germs go down the drain HEY!
8. Play handwashing Bingo
One final suggestion; adapt the classic game of Bingo to your handwashing learning. We found a great example of just this from View From A Step Stool. Their Bingo card included prompts like:
- wash hands for 20/25/30 seconds
- wash hands and sing Happy Birthday
- wash hands and sing the ABC’s
- wash hands and blow a soap bubble
- wash hands and give yourself a compliment
Hand out a laminated Bingo card to each of the class and ask them to tick them off as they do them. Prizes for a line or full-house, or just play for fun!
More tips for getting children to wash their hands
- Reward good hand washing practices. Rewarding good hand washing practices in the beginning might be really helpful to instil the routine. But make the rewards fun and meaningful. Perhaps reward pupils who are helpful in reminding people when they’ve forgotten, or reward those pupils with the best, most consistent hand washing technique. Classes might also find a hand washing chart helpful too, particularly for younger pupils.
- Create an accessible hand washing area. Help to make the process of hand washing as accessible as possible for little hands. You may need to stagger hand washing for groups of pupils to help with logistics. But this will come over time. It can help to have extra hand washing stations in classrooms if you have the room and the budget. But most of all, make sure children have access to the hand wash itself!
- Lead by example. This is a simple one but really helps to instil that all-important hand washing culture. Encourage staff to wash their hands alongside the pupils. Children learn so much when you lead by example. It helps if the handwashing routine is made communal and every member of staff in the school is on board.
- To make handwashing a habit, it helps to stipulate a clear routine to the proceedings. Make it clear when children need to wash their hands. Before and after eating, after using the toilet, after playing outside, after blowing your nose or sneezing, after touching pets. A routine for children to wash their hands before and after every break time will be important. Be consistent for a couple of weeks and children will be quick to self-regulate their handwashing routine.
- Keep reminding them. This doesn't mean keep hassling them (after all, we know that will probably lead to the opposite being done). But casual reminders dotted around in the form of posters are an easy way to keep good hygiene practices at the front of each pupil's mind. There are plenty out there you can download and print out for free, including the two designers included in our school administrator's guide to cleaning.